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It’s 4:30 p.m. You get up from your desk and start to make the journey home after another challenging day at work. Your car is parked three blocks away at a parking garage where your parking spot requires you to walk up four flights of stairs. As you get to your car you realize you’ve forgotten your wallet in your desk. You pause, take a deep breath and it begins . . . the internal debate of why you need to go back to get your wallet.

You’re now the judge tasked to listen to both sides of the argument and forced to ultimately decide whether to get the wallet or leave it for the night. During this 30-second process that seems longer, you experience powerful feelings of frustration and regret, as well as thoughts about not wanting to burn energy because you feel tired and just want to go home.

This simple example is the kind of challenge that can strain our mental and physical resources on any day.

This micro skill explores how self-care can play a role in how we manage stress and maintain our composure under pressure. How we react to these kinds of situations and the degree they have a negative impact can be predicted by our self-care.

Awareness

Developing one’s self-care starts with understanding what self-care is. Self-care is developed through personal actions that prepare us to better manage both our personal and professional commitments. It’s about what we do that promotes our holistic health and well-being.

Since self-care is personal, it can include many elements, such as:

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· physical activity

· nutrition

· sleep

· mental fitness (such as activities that promote mental health such as developing coping skills and emotional intelligence)

· strong and healthy relationships and networks

· professional development (such as seeking a mentor)

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· engaging in self-exploration to explore and define the kind of person we really want to be (such as exploring life purpose and core values)

The first step toward self-care is becoming aware that we make many choices every day. It means pausing and determining for ourselves what choices we think are in our best interest.

Accountability

The world evolves independently each day. We can't control that, but what we can control are our decisions. Self-care requires us to take ownership of those decisions and choices, but it doesn’t mean we’re expected to be able to control or solve all our life challenges alone.

Self-care is about creating a personal approach to life that will help us react better and forgive ourselves when we forget our wallet in the office and must walk back to retrieve it. Does it really matter when we make a minor mistake that creates more work for ourselves? Of course, we don’t want to make mistakes or forget things, but it happens. None of us is perfect.

Self-care can help us create not only behaviours that promote health and well-being but also the mental framework and ability to focus on what really matters, such as family, relationships and self-acceptance and understanding of our life purpose.

Action

Self-care is personal and we define what it means for us. Improving self-care and developing a self-care action plan takes awareness and accountability for wanting to improve our ability to manage life, as well as our expectations and happiness.

Take an inventory – Examine the following five areas to self-evaluate strength and gaps that if improved could enhance your self-care. When answering these questions, consider why you respond the way you do, as well as the benefits for making improvements in each area:

1. Professional self-care – How well are you managing your career, development and learning? Are there areas you can improve or would like to see more growth in?

2. Relationships – How well are you managing your most important relationships? How strong is your network? How concerned are you about being alone?

3. Physical self-care – How well are you taking care of your overall physical health (includes physical activity, sleep, nutrition, at-risk lifestyle habits and hydration)?

4. Spiritual self-care – How clear are you on your life purpose and why you do what you do?

5. Mental health self-care – How satisfied are you with your daily thinking and emotions?

Build your self-care plan – Your self-care plan doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to be personal and something you take ownership of. It only needs you to make decisions that support your self-care.

You may decide to take all your vacation time at once, so you can be with your family to improve your relationships, or take more Fridays off to have more long weekends. Under each of the five areas write out what you want to do to improve your self-care. Unless you see a benefit to you and others, you likely won’t do anything new or different. Having a self-care plan that you own will serve you better than not having one. It’s really that simple. Want proof? Just talk to someone who is committed to their self-care.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

You can find all the stories in this series at tgam.ca/workplaceaward

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